MUNSTER forwards coach, Anthony Foley believes there are too many senior rugby clubs in Limerick, given the fall-off in playing numbers due to the economic recession.
While there were four Limerick clubs in the AIL’s top division at the start of last season, the number could well fall to just one for next term, unless winless Garryowen can turn their fortunes round.
Local clubs have been trsuggling to retain playing numbers as more and more players move to Dublin and overseas to secure work.
Foley, who enjoyed a hugely successful playing career with Shannn, who were relegated for the first time in their history at the end of last season, believes there is a lack of ‘men’ playing the game at senior club level locally at the moment.
Foley said current club players missed out on being able to learn off experienced, more mature players in their squad, something he had enjoyed while developing into a quality rugby player.
Foley said the traditional influx of players to the Limerick city clubs from the likes of Bruff, Nenagh and Cashel had dried up now beause these twons have senior teams of their own now.
Anthony Foley said: “I just think the game is missing ‘men’ in Limerick at the moment. They are the fellas who are moving for jobs and stuff like that.
“We don’t collectively have the 26-32 year olds playing club rugby in the bulk we had when we dominated the AIL. We had a lot of ‘men’ playing.
“I watched the Shannon v Garryowen Munster Senior Cup semi-final in Thomond Park recently and the one thing that struck me was that the Shannon backs were nearly bigger than their forwards.
“You were looking at guys who were trying to find their way in the game, young forwards. It was the same with Garryowen.
“I think the players miss the experience of the player around them aiding their experience rather than them learning as a big group of young fellas.
“I don’t think they get the opportunity I had when I went into Shannon, the Mick Galwey, the Niall O’Donovans, the Kieran Mahers, the Mick Fitzgibbons, the Jim Galvins, we had men there who would guide you in helping you.
“I don’t see that in the club game at the moment. The numbers are very thin around Limerick and when you look at the Shannons and the Garryowens teams and the players who would come in from the likes of Cashel, Nenagh and Bruff, they now all have their own senior teams and so the influx of the country players into the town clubs isn’t there either.
“Your playing base is so small at the moment, I don’t think we can afford to have that many senior clubs in the town.
“I don’t think we have the numbers there and I don’t think we have the right type of player. You look at some of the teams in Dublin, go through the teamsheets and there are four five fellas who played rugby in Limerick. It’s hard, it’s hard for the clubs at the moment. I am not sure what can be done.
“All I can see is there is a younger player at the moment and he is not getting the experience week to week.
“It wouldn’t be the same experience younger fellas got in my time playing with the more experienced player.”
Foley said it is imperative that more local clubs get back contending for top AIL honours as quickly as possible.
“We have always banged on about our tradition, where we come from, who we are and who we represent,” Foley pointed out.
“In the glory days, clubs wanted to the senior clubs, Richmond, Thomond, Bruff, Nenagh and Cashel. They all got up and what you ended up doing in hindsight is diluting the playing group.
“You could have dual status before where you were involved in a senior squad on a Saturday and if you didn’t play, you went back to your junior club on a Sunday. That is not possible any more. It is tough, tough.
“It will probably take a sit down to go through it and see what is best for the game to go forward in the city. The game is very important to the city and it’s important we have clubs competing at the top of the AIL.
“We need to get back there as soon as possible. Unfortunately it is not going to be a quick fix.
“We need to hang onto each other. Players will say they are leaving because of the opportunities to work whether it’s Australia, Canada or Dublin. They got to use what they have to make a living. You can’t say they are wrong for doing it. You can try and take that decision away from them by giving them a choice. The issue around the club game at the moment is fellas have no choice but to go, but to go and that is the problem.
“We have too many senior clubs in the town and surrounds.”